FROM THE BOOK "UNBROKEN" - the life of
by Laura Hillenbrand
Sharks and Bullets
READ THIS AND THEN GET READY TO THINK ABOUT TWO QUESTIONS - Keith Hunt
ON THE MORNING OF THE TWENTY-SEVENTH DAY, A PLANE CAME.
It began with a rumble of engines, and then a spot in the sky. It was a twin-engine bomber, moving west at a brisk clip. It was so far away that expending the flares and dye was questionable. The men conferred and voted. They decided to take a shot.
Louie fired, one flare, reloaded, then fired a second, drawing vivid lines across the sky. He opened a dye container and spilled its contents into the ocean, then dug out the mirror and angled a square of light toward the bomber.
The men waited, hoping. The plane grew smaller, then faded away.
As the castaways slumped in the rafts, trying to accept another lost chance, over the western horizon there was a glimmer, tracing a wide curve, then banking toward the rafts. The bomber was coming back. Weeping with joy, Louie, Phil, and Mac tugged their shirts over,their heads and snapped them back and forth in the air, calling out. The bomber levelled off, skimming over the water. Louie squinted at the cockpit. He made out two silhouettes, a pilot and copilot. He thought of Palmyra, food, solid ground underfoot.
And then, all at once, the ocean erupted. There was a deafening noise, and the rafts began hopping and shuddering under the castaways. The gunners were firing at them.
Louie, Phil, and Mac clawed for the raft walls and threw themselves overboard. They swam under the rafts and huddled there, watching bullets tear through the rafts and cut bright slits in the water around them. Then the firing stopped.
The men surfaced. The bomber had overshot them and was now to the east, moving away. Two sharks were nosing around. The men had to get out of the water immediately.
Clinging to the side of Louie and Mac's raft, Phil was completely done in. The leap into the water had taken everything that was left in him. He floundered, unable to pull himself over the raft wall. Louie swam up behind him and gave him a push, and Phil slopped up on board. Mac, too, needed Louie's help to climb over the wall. Louie then dragged himself up, and the three sat there, stunned but uninjured. They couldn't believe that the airmen, mistaking them for Japanese, would strafe unarmed castaways. Under them, the raft felt doughy. It was leaking air.
In the distance, the bomber swung around and began flying at the rafts again. Louie hoped that the crew had realized the mistake and was returning to help them. Flying about two hundred feet over the water, the bomber raced at them, following a path slightly parallel to the rafts, so that its side passed into view. All three men saw it at once. Behind the wing, painted over the waist, was a red circle. The bomber was Japanese.
Louie saw the gunners taking aim and knew he had to go back in the water. Phil and Mac didn't move. They were both exhausted. They knew that if they went overboard again, they wouldn't be strong enough to get back in, and the sharks would take them. If they stayed on the raft, it seemed impossible that the gunners could miss them.
As the bomber flew toward them, they lay down. Phil pulled his knees to his chest and covered his head in his hands. Mac balled himself up beside him. Louie took a last glance at them, then dropped into the water and swam back under the rafts.
The bullets showered the ocean in a glittering downpour. Looking up, Louie saw them popping through the canvas, shooting beams of intensely bright tropical sunlight through the raft's shadow. But after a few feet, the bullets spent their force and fluttered down, fizzing. Louie straightened his arms over his head and pushed against the bottom of one of the rafts, trying to get far enough down to be outside the bullets' lethal range. Above him, he could see the depressions formed by Mac and Phil's bodies. Neither man was moving.
As the bullets raked overhead, Louie struggled to stay under the rafts. The current clutched at him, rotating his body horizontally and dragging him away. He kicked against it, but it was no use. He was being sucked away, and he knew that if he lost touch with the rafts, he wouldn't be able to swim hard enough against the current to get back. As he was pulled loose, he saw the long cord that strayed off the end of one of the rafts. He grabbed it and tied it around his waist.
As he lay underwater, his legs tugged in front of him by the current, Louie looked down at his feet. His left sock was pulled up on his shin; his right had slipped halfway off. He watched it flap in the current. Then, in the murky blur beyond it, he saw the huge, gaping mouth of a shark emerge out of the darkness and rush straight at his legs.
Louie recoiled, pulling his legs toward his body. The current was too strong for him to get his legs beneath him, but he was able to swing them to the side, away from the shark's mouth. The shark kept coming, directly at Louie's head. Louie remembered the advice of the old man in Honolulu: Make a threatening expression, then stiff-arm the shark's snout. As the shark lunged for his head, Louie bared his teeth, widened his eyes, and rammed his palm into the tip of the shark's nose. The shark flinched, circled away, then swam back for a second pass. Louie waited until the shark was inches from him, then struck it in the nose again. Again, the shark peeled away.
Above, the bullets had stopped coming. As quickly as he could, Louie pulled himself along the cord until he reached the raft. He grabbed its wall and lifted himself clear of the shark.
Mac and Phil were lying together in the fetal position. They were absolutely still, and bullet holes dappled the raft around them. Louie shook Mac. Mac made a sound. Louie asked if he'd been hit. Mac said no. Louie spoke to Phil. Phil said he was okay.
The bomber circled back for another go. Phil and Mac played dead, and Louie tipped back into the ocean. As bullets knifed the water around him, the shark came at him, and again Louie bumped its snout and repelled it. Then a second shark charged at him. Louie hung there, gyrating in the water and flailing his arms and legs, as the sharks snapped at him and the bullets came down. The moment the bomber sped out of firing range, he clambered onto the raft again. Phil and Mac were still un-hit.
Four more times the Japanese strafed them, sending Louie into the water to kick and punch at the sharks until the bomber had passed. Though he fought them to the point of exhaustion, he was not bitten. Every time he emerged from the water, he was certain that Phil and Mac would be dead. Impossibly, though there were bullet holes all the way around the men, even in the tiny spaces between them, not one bullet had hit either man.
The bomber crew made a last gesture of sadism. The plane circled back, and Louie ducked into the water again. The plane's bomb bay doors^rolled open, and a depth charge tumbled out, splashing down some fifty feet from the rafts. The men braced themselves for an explosion, but none came. Either the charge was a dud or the bombardier had forgotten to arm it. If the Japanese are this inept, Phil thought, America will win this war.
Louie rolled back onto the raft and collapsed. When the bomber came back, he was too tired to go overboard. As the plane passed a final time, Louie, Mac, and Phil lay still. The gunners didn't fire. The bomber flew west and disappeared.
Phil's raft had been slashed in two. A bullet had struck the air pump and ricocheted straight across the base of the raft, slitting it from end to end. Everything that had been in the raft had been lost in the water. Because the ruined raft was made from rubberized canvas, it didn't sink, but it was obviously far beyond repair. Shrunken and formless, it lapped about on the ocean surface.
The men were sardined together on what remained of Mac and Louie's raft, which was far too small for all three of them. The canvas was speckled with tiny bullet holes. The raft had two air chambers, but both were punctured. Each time one of the men moved, air sighed out of the chambers and the canvas wrinkled a little more. The raft sat lower and lower, in the water. The sharks whipped around it, surely excited by the bullets, the sight and smell of men in the water, and the sinking raft.
As the men sat together, exhausted and in shock, a shark lunged up over a wall of the raft, mouth open, trying to drag a man into the ocean. Someone grabbed an oar and hit the shark, and it slid off. Then another shark jumped on and, after it, another. The men gripped the oars and wheeled about, frantically swinging at the sharks. As they turned and swung and the sharks flopped up, air was forced out of the bullet holes, and the raft sank deeper. Soon, part of the raft was completely submerged.
If the men didn't get air into the raft immediately, the sharks would take them. One pump had been lost in the strafing; only the one from Mac and Louie's raft remained. The men hooked it up to one of the two valves and took turns pumping as hard as they could. Air flowed into the chamber and seeped out through the bullet holes, but the men found that if they pumped very quickly, just enough air passed through the raft to lift it up in the water and keep it mostly inflated. The sharks kept coming, and the men kept beating them away.
As Phil and Mac pumped and struck at the sharks, Louie groped for the provisions pocket and grabbed the patching kit, which contained sheets of patching material, a tube of glue, and sandpaper to roughen up the raft surface so the glue could adhere. The first problem declared itself immediately: The sandpaper wasn't waterproof. When Louie pulled it out, only the paper emerged; the sand that had been stuck to it had washed off. For the umpteenth time, Louie cursed whoever had stocked the raft. He had to devise something that could etch up the patch area so the glue would stick. He pondered the problem^ then picked up the brass mirror that he had used to hail the bomber. Using the pliers, he cut three teeth into the edge of the mirror. Phil and Mac kept fighting the sharks off.
Louie began patching, starting with the holes on the top of the raft. He lifted the perforated area clear of the water, wiped the water from the surface, and held it away from the waves, letting it dry in the sun. Then, with each perforation, he used the mirror edge to cut an X across the hole. The material consisted of two layers of canvas with rubber between. After cutting the X, he peeled back the canvas to reveal the rubber layer, used the mirror to scratch up the rubber, squeezed glue onto it, and stuck the patch on. Then he waited for the sun to dry the glue. Sometimes, a whitecap would drench the patch before it dried, and he'd have to begin again.
As Louie worked, keeping his eyes on the patches, the sharks kept snapping at him. Growing wiser, they gave up flinging themselves haphazardly at the men and began stalking about, waiting for a moment when an oar was down or a back was turned before bulling their way aboard. Over and over again, they lunged at Louie from behind, where he couldn't see them. Mac and Phil smacked them away.
Hour after hour, the men worked, rotating the duties, clumsy with fatigue. The pumping was an enormous exertion for the diminished men. They found that instead of standing the pump up and pushing, the handle downward, it was easier to press the pump handle to their chests and pull the base toward themselves. All three men were indispensable. Had there been only two, they couldn't have pumped, patched, and repelled the sharks. For the first time on the raft, Mac was truly helpful. He was barely strong enough to pull the pump handle a few times in a row, but with the oar he kept every shark away.
Night fell. In the darkness, patching was impossible, but the pumping couldn't be stopped. They pumped all night long, so drained that they lost the feeling in their arms.
In the morning the patching resumed. The rate of air loss gradually lessened, and they were able to rest for longer periods. Eventually, the air held enough for them to begin brief sleep rotations.
Once the top was patched, there was the problem of patching the bottom, which was underwater/All three men squeezed onto one side of the raft, balancing on one air tube. They opened up the valve and let the air out of the side they weren't sitting on, lifted it clear of the water, turned it over so the bottom faced skyward, wiped it off, and held it up to dry. Then Louie began patching. When that half of the bottom was patched, they re-inflated it, crawled onto the repaired side, deflated the other side and repeated the process. Again, whitecaps repeatedly washed over the raft and spoiled the patches, and everything had to be redone.
Finally, they could find no more holes to patch. Because bubbles kept coming up around the sides of the raft, they knew there were holes someplace where they couldn't reach. They had to live with them. The patches had slowed the air loss dramatically. Even when struck by whitecaps, the patches held. The men found that they could cut back on their pumping to one session every fifteen minutes or so during the day, and none at night. With the raft now reasonably inflated, the sharks stopped attacking.
Losing Phil's raft was a heavy blow. Not only had they lost all of the items stored on it, but now three men were wedged in a two-man raft, so close together that to move, each man had to ask the others to give him room. There was so little space that they had to take turns straightening their legs. At night, they had to sleep in a bony pile, feet to head.
But two good things came from the strafing. Looking at the dead raft, Louie thought of a use for it. Using the pliers, he pulled apart the layers of canvas on the ruined raft, creating a large, light sheet. At last, they had a canopy to block the sun in daytime and the cold at night.
The other benefit of the strafing was the information it gave the men. When they had a moment to collect themselves, Louie and Phil discussed the Japanese bomber. They thought that it must have come from the Marshall or Gilbert islands. If they were right in their belief that they were drifting directly west, then the Marshalls and Gilberts were roughly equidistant from them. They thought that the bomber had probably been on sea search, and if the Japanese followed the same sea search procedures as the Americans, it would have taken off at around seven a.m., a few hours before it had reached the rafts.
Estimating the bomber's cruising speed and range, they made rough-calculations to arrive at how many hours the bomber could remain' airborne after it left them, and thus how far they were from its base. They guessed that they were some 850 miles from the bomber's base. If this was correct, given that they had crashed about 2,000 miles east of the Marshalls and Gilberts, they had already traveled more than half the distance to those islands and were covering more than 40 miles per day. Phil thought over the numbers and was surprised. They had had no idea that they were so far west.
Extrapolating from these figures, they made educated guesses of when they'd reach the islands. Phil guessed the forty-sixth day; Louie guessed the forty-seventh. If their figures were right, they were going to have to last about twice as long as Rickenbacker. That meant surviving on the raft for almost three more weeks.
It was frightening to imagine what might await them on those islands. The strafing had confirmed what they'd heard about the Japanese. But it was good to feel oriented, to know that they were drifting toward land somewhere out there, on the far side of the earth's tilt. The bomber had given them something to ground their hope.
Mac didn't join in on the prognostication. He was slipping away.
QUESTION ONE: THE MIND-SET OF JAPAN'S FIGHTERS? SHOULD BE CLEAR IT WAS NO MERCY; OFTEN JUST KILL FOR THE PLEASURE OF KILLING! MAYBE NOT A NEW THING AS YOU THINK ABOUT THE BARBAROUS MIND-SET OF THE ROMANS AT TIMES, AND HOW THEY LIKED TO KILL FOR THE PLEASURE IT GAVE THEIR TWISTED MINDS. THE JAPANESE HAD NEVER LOST A WAR IN THEIR HISTORY; THEY THOUGHT THEY WERE INVINCIBLE AND WITH IT WENT A CRAZED MIND OF KILL FOR THE SICK PLEASURE IT GAVE THEM. INDEED THERE HAVE BEEN MANY A SICK MIND-SET OF SUCH KILLING OVER THE 20TH CENTURY, AND EVEN STILL TODAY IN PARTS OF THE WORLD. BUT THE INSANE MIND-SEY OF THE JAPANESE DURING WW2 IT TOOK TWO ATOMIC BOMBS DROPPED ON THEM BEFORE THEY WOULD UNCONDITIONALLY SURRENDER. I HAVE BROUGHT YOU ELSEWHERE A WHOLE SERIES ON THE JAPANESE MIND-SET OF WORLD WAR 2.
QUESTION TWO: SHARKS? YOU SEE SOME PROGRAMS OF UNDERWATER DIVERS SWIMMING WITH SHARKS, OFTEN IMPLIED OR TAUGHT OUTRIGHT THAT "SHARKS ARE NOT SO EVIL." WELL IN THE BOOK BY HILLENBRAND IT IS NOT THE FIRST TIME SHE HAS TOLD US ABOUT THE SHARKS JUST RIGHT THERE TO DEVOUR AND TEAR APART HUMANS HITTING THE WATER. SHARKS ARE THE LIONS OF THE SEA….. THEY ARE MADE TO KILL AND TEAR APART….. AFTER READING ALL THAT HILLENBRAND RELATES TO SHARKS AND THOSE CRASHED AND LOST AT SEA, I HAVE NO LIKING FOR SHARKS!